The WFD is staffed to fight fires, which is a very dangerous and exhausting activity. Each engine or truck is staffed with a “company” of three (3) or four (4) firefighters so they can accomplish critical tasks as a team when they arrive on the fire scene. Structure fires today burn hotter and faster than ever before due to the many synthetic and plastic materials used in construction and in furniture. If critical tasks cannot be performed immediately a fire could burn “out of control”, opportunities for occupant rescue are lost, and the structure may be totally destroyed.
The WFD sends all four (4) companies (3 Engines and 1 Truck) to every structure fire so that we have the most firefighters we have available to make our best effort to keep the fire small.
To illustrate how the WFD will handle a residential structure fire, the following example is offered:
All four (4) companies will be dispatched if they are available. The Captain (supervisor) on the first arriving fire engine must give a “size-up”, or radio report, to all other responding companies of what type and size of structure is burning, where evidence of the fire is showing (i.e., windows or doors, first floor or second floor, front of the structure or the rear, etc), what tactics his/her engine company is going to start doing, and what special assignments need to be given to the next arriving units. Every fire is different so every “size-up” is different.
A Battalion Chief responds to all multi-engine emergency responses to assume a “command” role directing the engine companies on what they need to do to extinguish the fire, perform a rescue, etc. Once the Battalion Chief arrives on-scene, he/she will make contact with that first arriving Captain, get an update of the fire, and will relieve that Captain so he/she can join their company and their assignment.
At a working fire at least one engine company will secure a water supply from the nearest fire hydrant laying out a large diameter hose from the hydrant to the fire. Once the hose is connected to the hydrant at one end and to the fire engine at the other the hydrant is turned “on” and smaller firefighting hoses are pulled from the fire engine to an exterior to be used by firefighters entering the structure to extinguish the fire, this is called “fire attack”.
Firefighters must adhere to the “buddy system” by law which means there must be at least two “fire attack” firefighters going inside, and at least two firefighters standing by outside the structure as their rescue team. Firefighters enter the structure on their hands and knees to stay low under the dense black smoke and the very high and intensive heat. Firefighters can rarely see where they are going as they crawl into the structure and they must follow sounds and heat to find the fire. As additional firefighters enter the structure with additional hoses they will follow deliberate search patterns to be sure nobody became trapped in the structure. If anybody is found in a burning structure, firefighters will immediately remove them to safety outdoors and give them immediate medical care.
Other tasks that must be accomplished immediately, and typically assigned to the Truck Company, include turning off the utilities to the structure (i.e., gas and electric power), and performing “ventilation” which can be accomplished by breaking out windows or by a truck company laddering the roof to cut a large hole in the roof so smoke and hot gases can quickly escape.
Once the fire is extinguished, then “overhaul” must begin. This is the process of making sure every last bit of fire is thoroughly extinguished and must be done before the firefighters may leave the scene. It is during overhaul that fire investigators will be called to the scene so they can see burn patterns, take pictures, etc before firefighters change the appearance of the inside of the structure too much doing overhaul. In some cases the firefighters remain on scene with the investigators doing overhaul and investigation simultaneously. Both are tedious assignments so this can prolong the time for both dramatically. The goal is to be sure the fire is out, and to be sure we have every clue to determine how the fire started.